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February 28, 2013

COMMENTARY: A proper send-off for Jack Dobbins Fieldhouse

TAHLEQUAH — It doesn’t get any better than this when it comes to Northeastern State basketball.

A raucous crowd of 1,224 christened Jack Dobbins Field House for a reunion, of sorts. Oh, and Central Oklahoma was in town.

All good stuff.

The cherry on top was it just so happened to be the ending of an era. The 58-year-old facility, known as Jack Dobbins Field House, was given a proper send-off as NSU ventures into a new realm of athletics.

There will be plenty of time in the future to talk about the RiverHawks’ new $14.4 million, 3,000-seat jewel that is slated to open next season on the north end of campus.

But today is all about Jack Dobbins Field House and how the community — and more specifically, a group of NSU students — helped turn back time at the building, which stood — and will likely continue to — stand as the welcome mat to the university from the south.

It’s no secret that attendance across the college basketball landscape has dwindled. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa know it all too well. People just aren’t turning out to watch games on the collegiate hardwood.

Northeastern State has suffered the same plight. The RiverHawks rank toward the bottom of the pack in basketball attendance. That’s a far cry from the days in the 60s and 70s when fans had to be turned away at the door.

Heck, fans from the surrounding area couldn’t even fill Jack Dobbins Field House for NCAA tournaments games in 2011. There were still seats to be had when the NSU women lost to UCO in the Round of 32.

Last season, NSU enthusiasts would show up early to watch the top-25 women’s club before bailing before the men’s game even started.

This year, at least the fans have stuck around for both games. Through 12 home dates (prior to UCO’s arrival in town), the RiverHawks have averaged 558 fans per men’s game. That’s narrowly ahead of Lincoln’s 496, which ranks dead last in the league.

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